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The Latest Management Trend - Brightsizing

Why it is Dangerous to Your Organization

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Management trends come and go. They are good or bad depending on many variables: industry; company culture; education level of workers; existing contracts and laws; etc. Mostly, however, they are good or bad depending on how well they are applied.

You know the names of the most recent batch. We have all been impacted, in one way or another, by downsizing, re-engineering, restructuring, delayering and so on.

Re-engineering is a solid business management tool, but applied incorrectly it can cause more harm than good. Downsizing, when done improperly, is appropriately called dumbsizing.

The latest management buzzword isn't really a trend. It is more a reaction to the last few trends. The new buzzword is brightsizing. While it provides more opportunity for comic relief, courtesy of Dilbert, it is no laughing matter. Brightsizing is downright dangerous and you need to protect your organization from it.

Brightsizing is defined, by Paul McFedries' Word Spy, as "corporate downsizing in which the brightest workers are let go. This happens when a company lays off those workers with the least seniority, but its those young workers who are often the best trained and educated."

Sometimes brightsizing is blamed on union contracts, which enforce seniority-based hiring/firing practices. It is, unfortunately, just as common in non-union companies.

Many companies have policy statements in their employee handbooks that state that in layoff decisions "among equally qualified candidates preference will be given to the employee with the greatest seniority."

When faced with decisions that will result in a reduction in staff, make sure you first evaluate the value of the employee to the organization and THEN look at other mitigating factors, such as length of time with the company.

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One company I worked with kept an individual with them because he was one of their first employees. They kept finding jobs he could do as the company grew rapidly and outgrew his capabilities. Eventually, the made him responsible for picking up dignitaries at the airport and bringing them to the office.

While I believe in company loyalty and retraining employees, you have to draw the line somewhere based on performance and value to the company. The driver had gotten old, was nearly blind, and could not even converse socially with the dignitaries he picked up. He did not make a good first impression for the company.

This individual, incidentally, became an even greater liability to the company because he never adjusted to the changing social rules on interpersonal conduct. His remarks and actions were usually dismissed because "he’s just a harmless old man", but the potential for a harassment lawsuit was significant.

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Remember, your first obligation is to the health of your company, not to any individual. While it is important that you respect your employees as a group, and always treat them fairly, you can not sacrifice the company for any individual. If the company suffers as a result of poor personnel decisions on your part, it may result in further downsizing and more employees would have to be released.

Don't brightsize your company by keeping people with the greatest seniority. Don't cripple it, either, by applying any other arbitrary measurement. Don't just keep the tall people, for instance, or the blondes. Don't keep people just because they are friendly or dependable. Make all your staffing decisions based on what is best for the company.
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